Introducing Sebastian Goodfellow, CivMin’s newest faculty member

Sebastian Goodfellow outside the Lassonde Mining Building at the University of Toronto’s St. George Campus. PHOTO: Phill Snel, Department of Civil & Mineral Engineering/ U of T

Sebastian Goodfellow joined us January 6, 2020 as Assistant Professor. CivMin asked a few questions so we can all get to know him a little better.



What excites you most about your research?
Much of my research is focused on conducting experiments on rock samples at the centimetre scale. One of the major challenges of laboratory experimentation is scaling laboratory models, observations, and conclusions up to a larger, real-world dimension. For example, how are observations of slip on a 10-centimetre simulated laboratory fault related to slip on a kilometre-scale natural fault? Given the extent of this challenge, much of the research in this field remains confined to the laboratory scale. During my Ph.D. research, I spent a considerable amount of time carefully calibrating a set of Acoustic Emission sensors. After calibration, these sensors were able to measure surface normal ground motion at the scale of nanometers, which is analogous to the measurement of ground motion from natural earthquakes. This work allowed us to demonstrate a continuity of event size and magnitude from the kilometre scale down to the millimetre scale in the lab. As a result, this work has been used by scientists and engineers studying natural and man-made earthquakes at the field scale, which has been particularly gratifying. Furthermore, I am excited by the possibility of laboratory experimentation to make major contributions to our understanding of natural and induced earthquakes.
What are you most looking forward to in your new role at the University of Toronto?
I am looking forward to many different aspects of this new role at the University of Toronto, however, one, in particular, is the opportunity for interdisciplinary collaboration both within the department and more broadly within the University. I remember reading an op-ed by Daniel Woolf, principal of Queen’s University, where he described academic disciplines like houses, and with disciplinary research nearly everything happens “at home”. Woolf explained that in research, “getting out of the house” has become essential because the problems to be confronted spill across borders, cultural divides and fields of knowledge. I encountered the power of interdisciplinary research first hand while working for Peter Laussen in the Critical Care Unit (CCU) at the Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) over the past 3 years. SickKids has always collected patient data in large electronic health record (EHR) databases, where these data are analyzed by biostatisticians to model population-level outcomes. Three years ago, the CCU started acquiring high-frequency physiological waveform data (ECG, EEG, etc.) at 500 Hz, 24 hours a day for all of its patients, generating over 700,000 patient hours of data for 4800 patients. The hospital was acquiring hundreds of gigabytes of high-frequency time-series data that it did not have the expertise to manipulate. I was able to join a world-class team at SickKids and apply my signal processing skills, that I had honed processing ultrasonic and earthquake waveform data, to help solve problems in the medical sciences. Our research group now consists of cardiologists, a seismologist (me), a nurse practitioner, a hydrologist, critical care clinicians, an economist, and a heart surgeon from different research agencies and several countries. The strength of this group stems from the diversity of its members, and their varied expertise, unique experiences, extensive knowledge and creative talents. Given the wide range of diverse research being conducted in the Department of Civil and Mineral Engineering, I look forward to meeting the faculty and identifying opportunities for collaboration.
What do you hope to accomplish in the next five years?
In the next five years, I hope to build a research group that sits at the interface between laboratory experimentation, machine learning, and geoscience engineering. A major focus will be upgrading the experimental facilities at the Rock Fracture Dynamics Facility (RFDF). The RFDF is a world-renowned rock mechanics and geophysics lab and I have numerous ideas for taking it to the next level. I’m also very passionate about education and have identified some key areas in the Civil and Mineral Engineering curriculum where I can introduce some exciting new topics. In particular, while working in the private sector, it has been my experience that a set of skills broadly described as “Data Science” have become essential skills for the 21st century. Although Data Science has gained popularity resulting from successful applications in marketing, e-commerce, and social media, it is becoming widely utilized for engineering and geoscience applications. These applications include regulation and control of electrical grids, mineral exploration, traffic engineering, infrastructure health monitoring, deep mine hazard assessment, predictive maintenance, control and maintenance of water systems, and many others. I’m excited to prepare engaging course content for Civil and Mineral Engineering students to enable them to thrive in an exciting and fast-moving world.
As a new professor, what one piece of advice would you give to new students?
When I was a student, I remember thinking that you go to university to learn and then you get a job to apply those learnings. I have been working in the private sector for the past five years and I have never stopped learning. I am constantly reading books and papers, taking online courses and boot camps, and attending workshops and lectures. Especially in the rapidly evolving worlds of Data Science and Machine Learning, continuous learning is a requirement. So, my advice to students is to recognize that learning doesn’t end at graduation and to develop skills during their time at university that will help them learn effectively and efficiently once they start their careers.
What is something we would be surprised to learn about you?
I was in a Beatles cover band and I’m a surfer.